The October selection for the Inkblots (and I'm finished EARLY for a change!). A City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge.
Let me start with just a little something about the physical copy of the book itself. I bought it from Alibris, or a used bookseller through Amazon. Obviously a really old copy, the hardcover's original price was $2.50. Love it! And here's what the reviews on the back of the book say:
A refreshing book when my jaded mind most needed it. I do like it very much indeed, and I love the people in it. (Geraldine Gordon, Hathaway House Bookshop, Wellesley, Mass)
I am very keen about it and feel sure it should have a most unusually good sale. I can think of dozens of my own customers who would adore it because of its charm and pleasant attitude. (Mrs. Richard A. Kimball, Young Books, New York City)
The kind of book I like to read when I'm all fed up and need something to rest my brain and refresh my spirit. It is charming, enchanting and altogether delightful. (Annette Enderly, Putnam's Bookstore, New York City)
I would love it if I wrote a book and someone told me they were "keen on it." Wouldn't that be, oh, just SWELL?
Anyway, the reviews make it sound like a throwaway kind of novel, but I thought there was much more in it. The novel is based in the fictional cathedral town of Torminster, during the Edwardian period. The background is all high church Anglican and small town characters. Here's part of the blurb from the cover:
But all this, of course, is just background for Jocelyn Irvin, a young man who doesn't quite know what to make of his life. Then he meets Henrietta who is ten and came from an orphanage and Hugh Anthony who is two years older and asks questions ad infinitum, and Felicity Summers who is one of the leading actresses of the English stage, and things begin to happen to him. Through it all is woven the dark, mysterious fate of Ferranti, a strange, twisted genius.....
The characters are lovely. Jocelyn's grandmother and grandfather are especially dear. Grandfather is, after years of missionary work with the poor, one of the Canons of Torminster, and is living out his old age in a peaceful and beautiful place. But his insights are wonderful. He is a saintly man. Grandmother is more practical, sharp-tongued and clear eyed, but no less faith filled.
Jocelyn was injured in the Boer War, and is trying to find something to do with himself. As it turns out, he becomes a bookseller, opening a bookshop in Torminster, much to the chagrin of most of his family, who think that such a job is beneath him. Here's a little quote:
"A bookseller," said Grandfather, "is the link between mind and mind, the feeder of the hungry, very often the binder up of wounds. There he sits, your bookseller, surrounded by a thousand minds all done up neatly in cardboard cases; beautiful minds, courageous minds, strong minds, wise minds, all sorts and conditions. And there come into him other minds, hungry for beauty, for knowledge, for truth, for love, and to the best of his ability he satisfies them all . . . Yes . . . It's a great vocation."
"Greater than a writer's" asked Felicity. "Yes, Hugh Anthony, leave a space for poor Emily on the third shelf."
"Immeasurably," said Grandfather. "A writer has to spin his work out of himself and the effect upon the character is often disastrous. It inflates the ego. Now your bookseller sinks his own ego in the thousand different egos that he introduces one to the other . . . Yes . . . Moreover his life is one of wide horizons. He deals in the stuff of eternity and there's no death in a bookseller's shop. Plato and Jane Austen and Keats sit side by side behind his back, Shakespeare is on his right hand and Shelley on his left."...."Yes. Writers, from what I've seen of them, are a very queer lot, but booksellers are the salt of the earth."
Lovely, lovely, lovely book. I'm now on the hunt for more Elizabeth Goudge. I used to have a copy of The Dean's Watch, but I don't any more. Maybe a trip to 1/2 Price Books?????
BTW, this book made me even with the number of books I read last year. With three months to go! Since I have 3 more book club selections to get through (though one is very short--A Child's Christmas in Wales), I'll have at least that many more books.
On the nightstand to be next? Prince of Foxes by Shellabarger. Oh, and the next 2 #1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, as soon as my mother finishes them.......